UDFA Viti a special teams candidate, too (Photo Source)
Feel free to question the strategy. Go ahead, do it. The Buffalo Bills don't care. Why would a team that has not made the NFL's playoffs since 1999 spend half of its most important draft in the Dick Jauron era bolstering special teams, when there are serious questions to be answered offensively and defensively?
Well, special teams are the identity of the Buffalo Bills. They have been since the days when Marv Levy roamed the sidelines as Buffalo's head coach. Those sentiments returned to the team psyche when Levy returned as the Bills' General Manager. The Bills have had one of the most consistent and dominant special teams units this decade, and it's because the team focuses on building the unheralded unit far more closely than most other NFL franchises.
Bills Lose Core of ST Foundation
Imagine Buffalo's defense in the "glory years" without Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley, Cornelius Bennett, Nate Odomes and Henry Jones. Those players were the core of a pretty good unit - a consistent unit. The Bills, in this off-season alone, lost their special teams versions of those five guys when Ryan Neufeld, Sam Aiken, Mario Haggan, Josh Stamer and unit captain Coy Wire were released or allowed to walk. The consistency of the unit was in serious jeopardy when those five guys - central to coordinator Bobby April's plan for the last four years - left the franchise.
Sure, there were still solid players for the unit. The team still has two elite return threats in Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish. They have some veteran players, such as Jabari Greer and Bryan Scott, who made their mark early in their careers with stellar special teams play. They have a young quartet of players with promising special teams careers ahead of them in John Wendling, Keith Ellison, George Wilson and Justin Jenkins.
Still, the core was missing. The Bills chose to replace that core through the draft. It may pay big dividends.
What's Been Added
The one player poised to make the biggest difference on special teams as a rookie is, not surprisingly, first-round pick Leodis McKelvin. A star punt returner in college with home run ability on kick returns as well, McKelvin gives the Bills three outstanding return threats - two each at kick and punt returner. Having those options available helps in two ways - it keeps our return men fresher for their regular roles, and it makes it all the more difficult to game plan for Buffalo for opposing special teams coordinators. Buffalo's return game may be scarier than the one that Hester character heads up in Chicago with McKelvin on board.
Additionally, the Bills have drafted three players - CB Reggie Corner, TE Derek Fine and LB Alvin Bowen - who figure to play all four special teams units right out of the gate. These are smart, tough, athletic players with the perfect work ethic and mentality to excel on special teams, and their versatility throughout the kicking game makes them all the more attractive. Add these three rookies to current "ace" specialists Wendling and Jenkins (who will probably make the roster on his special teams abilities alone), and the Bills seem to have replaced their old five-man core with a younger, healthier and more athletic quintet. Even undrafted free agent fullback Mike Viti (pictured above, left), a 5'9", 245-pound bowling ball of a blocker, has a shot at contributing early.
So debate the strategy if you feel you must. Again, the Bills don't care. No NFL team pays closer attention to what has been their most consistent unit of the decade, and after a productive draft that adds explosive talent, the Bills' bread and butter is looking more edible than ever.